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Bible reading plan & guide - week 3


There are four biographies of Jesus in the New Testament, through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, each looking at his life from a different point of view and therefore emphasising, and including or omitting, events according to this viewpoint. Matthew, addressing especially the first Jewish Christians, wrote of Jesus as the promised King of Israel giving more prominence than the other biographers to this aspect of Christ’s role in the purpose of God. For instance, Matthew’s first sentence declares Jesus is the son of David, because it was to that king of Israel that God promised, a thousand years earlier, that a descendant of his would sit on his throne and reign over Israel for ever.

The first chapter of this account proves that Jesus was legally the son of David, and the first seven chapters describe his birth and introduction to Israel at the age of thirty, and record some detailed teaching of Jesus to his disciples.

Sunday: Matthew 1

Jesus was born to Mary, a virgin, when the power of God acted on her to produce a child who was not her son only but also God’s "...for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit" v.20

Her betrothed, Joseph, accepted this development and, even though he had no blood relationship with him, became Jesus’ legal father. Therefore Joseph’s genealogy is given v.16 to prove that under the law Jesus was related to both Abraham and David, a vital relationship because it was to these two men that God made promises concerning their seed. Joseph was instructed to give Mary’s baby the name Jesus, meaning "Yah saves", because through him God would save his people from their sins v.21. This was declared to be God’s purpose from the very beginning. For example, in Genesis 3:15 concerning the "seed of the woman" and also through the prophet Isaiah that a virgin would bear this great deliverer: "Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" vs.22-23 (Isaiah 7:14).

Monday: Matthew 2

It was certainly appropriate that the newborn king should receive gifts from great men, and wise men did come from the east to pay homage. No doubt these men anticipated the birth of the king of Israel from the writings of the prophet Daniel who wrote in their country concerning the time of the Messiah’s coming. They also interpreted an unusual star as a sign that the time had arrived. Naturally, seeking the king of Israel, they went to the palace of King Herod who, at that time under the Romans, reigned in Jerusalem over the Jews.

Herod was troubled by the prospect of this rival to his dynasty for the scriptures plainly state that the Messiah will reign in Jerusalem over Israel as literally as he did himself. From the scribes he learned that Bethlehem was to be the birthplace of the Messiah v.5-6 according to the prophecy through Micah concerning the one "to be ruler in Israel" (Micah 5:2).

Notice how Matthew freely quoted the Old Testament to show the literal development of God’s purpose in Christ, exemplifying how we should apply the prophecies written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus so that we too can see the outworking of that purpose. Certainly Herod responded practically to this potential threat to his regime, by killing young children in Bethlehem in an attempt to destroy the Messiah. He was unsuccessful, however, because Joseph and Mary were warned by God and took Jesus with them into Egypt. Upon their return they settled in Nazareth where Jesus was brought up, to the consternation of many Jews three decades later when they found it difficult to accept that the Messiah came from such a despised place.

Tuesday: Matthew 3

It was also appropriate that the King should be introduced to his people by a suitable forerunner who would also prepare his way before him as prophesied through Isaiah v.3,8 (Isaiah 40:3). John the Baptist made the people ready to welcome the Messiah by turning them to repentance unto righteousness v.2. Also by baptizing those who came to him confessing their sins v.6, he provided the means by which Jesus could be publicly introduced to the people.

At about the age of thirty, Jesus came to John to be baptized but, unlike everyone else, he had no sins to confess and so John demurred. But Jesus insisted that John baptize him "to fulfil all righteousness" v.15. This was the motivating principle of Jesus’ life: to do always those things which are right in God’s eyes, including submission to total immersion in water before commencing his allotted work among the people. God openly acknowledged Jesus’ obedience as he came out of the water by anointing him with the Spirit v.16 and by a loud declaration from heaven: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" v.17.

"Messiah" in Hebrew and "Christ" in Greek both mean "anointed", and Jesus became the anointed one when the Holy Spirit came upon him at his baptism. "Christ" is not a surname such as we have, but a title which announces that he is the one chosen to rule God’s people of Israel.

Wednesday: Matthew 4

Jesus, possessing God’s power, was able to perform extraordinary deeds, but this magnified the temptation on him to depart from doing God’s will. Therefore the Spirit immediately led him into the wilderness to determine "whether he would keep God’s commandments, or no". Note that this temptation was part of God’s purpose, not that of a supernatural evil being. "Devil" in Greek means "false accuser" and the greatest of these, the enemy of mankind, is sin in our flesh - and Jesus’ mission was to defeat this traducer.

In this chapter we read of these two combatants in conflict: sin in the flesh and the Son of God, and we observe that three influences were brought to bear upon Jesus to tempt him to sin: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. These are the influences which can divert us from the way of righteousness and, referring back to Genesis 3, we see that Adam and Eve were also tempted in these same three ways, but unlike them Jesus resisted these evil influences to overcome sin successfully. It is instructive to observe that Jesus was able to resist temptation by applying God’s word to the circumstance. In particular, he overcame the intense hunger for food, without using God’s power to provide it miraculously, by the conviction expressed in the book of Deuteronomy that such food only keeps us alive for a short while, whereas feeding on God’s word results in everlasting life: "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" v.4.

Jesus was given the Spirit without measure so that he could demonstrate that he came from God and that his message also was from God. Therefore he went about the land vs.23,25, with specially chosen companions vs.18-22, using God’s power to heal people of various diseases v.23, of mental illnesses, and of paralysis v.24. However his most important work was to preach God’s good news or "gospel" v.23 for this is the essential message of salvation. It should be noted that this good news was about the Kingdom of God, the grand finale to which world events are leading, in which Jesus, God’s anointed, will reign on his promised throne as the King of Israel and ruler of the whole world to bring blessings to all people.

Thursday: Matthew 5

Jesus not only taught the people about the coming kingdom of God but also instructed them how to live lives to qualify them for places in that kingdom. Only those who follow his instructions are the truly blessed, i.e. happy. They are meek, merciful and pure; they hunger after righteousness; and they are blessed because theirs is the kingdom of God and they will inherit the earth vs.1-12.

The kingdom of God existed in Israel in the past, as the Old Testament describes, but it was overturned by God because his people turned away from righteousness to wickedness and idolatry. The laws of that kingdom, given through Moses, were still in force in Israel when Jesus lived obediently among them, and he told them that even the minutest element of the law would not fail until all was fulfilled vs.17-18.

That law was designed for the regulation of the nation, but more is required of individuals who hope to enjoy eternal life in God’s kingdom when it is established. For example, the law said "Thou shalt not kill" but Jesus commanded his disciples not even to be angry with fellow believers without a cause vs.21-22. The Jews said that it was right not only to love their neighbour but also to hate their enemies v.43, but Jesus commanded: "...I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" vs.44.

The Jews were also disinclined to express their affirmations and negations with a simple yes or no v.37 but embellished them with oaths on sacred places, such as swearing by heaven. But Jesus commanded them not to swear at all v.34, not for example by Jerusalem "because it is the city of the great King." Here Jesus was quoting from Psalm 48 which provides a vision of Jerusalem when it becomes the capital of the future kingdom of God, confirming the prophecy and identifying himself as the great king who will reign there.

You will note that the commands of Christ have the purpose of developing a Godlike character in his disciples: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" v.48.

Friday: Matthew 6

In this chapter Jesus teaches us how to give alms, pray, fast and serve God, and he relates these religious practices to the reward God will give to those who worship him faithfully, but which he will withhold from those who fail in this respect.

Jesus gave his disciples an example of acceptable prayer, and we should note that this puts God’s reverence first, "Hallowed be thy name" v.9, the performance of his will second: "Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." v.10, and only after these comes the expression of our own desires. The prayer has been, and is still, repeated by millions of people, but how many of these really look forward to the re-establishment of God’s kingdom in Israel and to the time when God’s will is to be done in earth as it is in heaven?

So many have been misled into looking for a different reward. A common misconception is that God has promised heaven-going to the faithful. He has never made such a promise, but some take passages out of context in support of this idea, fatally "wresting" God’s word to force a meaning which is denied in the rest of scripture. An example of this is the wresting of vs.19-21: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." It is assumed that if the reward is stored in heaven then we must go there to enjoy it, whereas it is only "stored" there awaiting the return of Jesus who will bring it with him: "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Revelation 22:12).

The promised reward is so exceedingly more desirable than anything we might gain in this life that Jesus counsels us not to seek after the things that mankind naturally seeks vs.31-32, but: " ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" v.33.

Saturday: Matthew 7

In this chapter Jesus instructs us to examine our own selves and to direct our feet into the path leading to life. It is easy to find faults in others, rather than in ourselves, vs.3-4, but we are wise to apply self-examination and to rectify our own faults. Jesus warns that the justice we mete out to others will be the same justice applied to us v.1, therefore we should exercise the principle underlying God’s commandments to Israel as to their treatment of each other: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets" v.12.

Determined effort is required on our part to direct our steps into the way of life because it is much easier to be carried along with the crowd, not to life, but to death: "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait (narrow) is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." vs.13-14.

The real danger is that we may be misled by "false prophets" v.15 who appear as "sheep" but are really "ravening wolves". The dire consequences of this will become apparent when Jesus returns because many who think they are his disciples will be rejected by him: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" vs.21-23.

The only sure and certain way to be acceptable to Jesus is to believe his teaching wholeheartedly and to do faithfully what he requires: "Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock" vs.24-25.


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